Strategic Backgrounds for the VICTOR Operations
As February 1945 neared an end, the Sixth United States Army had, in four months of almost continuous battle, swept across Leyte, seized the island of Mindoro, and pushed the Japanese into the corners of Luzon. Lieutenant General Eichelberger's Eighth Army had taken over at Leyte to finish the job when the Sixth moved on to make the Lingayen landings. The Eighth Army had also secured Samar, landed some of its units on Luzon to help isolate Bataan and take part in the drive to Manila, and sent still other units into some of the lesser islands in the Visayan and Samar Seas. Now the Eighth was ready to begin major offensives of its own: to seize Palawan, the elongated island that stretched southwestward almost to Borneo; to take Mindanao, the big island at the southern end of the Philippine Archipelago; and finally to close in on the last area of Japanese entrenchment, the southern Visayan Islands (Cebu, Negros, Panay, and Bohol). For planning purposes these operations were known as VICTORS I through V.1 (See Map 10.)
As early as 6 February General Douglas MacArthur had issued orders directing General Eichelberger to seize by overwater operations the Puerto Princesa-Iwahig area on the island of Palawan, the Zamboanga area on the island of Mindanao, and certain portions of the Sulu Archipelago.2 The ultimate objective of these operations was the complete destruction of enemy forces in this part of the Philippines and the establishment of air and naval bases throughout the islands surrounding the Sulu Sea.
The control of this "inner corridor" from Borneo was of great importance to future operations in the area. As explained in the Report of the Commanding General, Eighth Army, on the Mindanao Operation, VICTOR IV:
The peninsula and its pendant islands lie at the intersection of two important sea lanes; the north-south route from the Netherlands East Indies to China and Japan and the east-west route from Samoa and Guam to the seaports of the Philippines and Singapore. In
addition, the peninsula and the archipelago dominate three vital waterways: Basilan Strait between Zamboanga and Basilan Island; Sibutu passage at the center of the Sulu Archipelago; and Alice channel in the vicinity of Tawi Tawi. Here also are to be found the first, large and safe harbors on the southeast approach to the Philippines.
From this it can be seen that control of the Zamboanga-Sulu region would deny all waters between Borneo and the Philippine Islands to the Japanese, and afford air and naval bases for the coming assault on Mindanao proper. Therefore, the seizure of these strategic areas was the logical prologue to the Borneo landings and the ultimate clearance of the southern Philippines.3
On 17 February the Eighth Army issued its plan for two VICTOR phases, both to be carried out with the 41st Infantry Division as the assault force; 28 February was set as H-Day for the landing on Palawan and 10 March as J-Day for the attack on Zamboanga.4 The strike at Palawan was designated the VICTOR III Operation: the Zamboanga-Sulu actions, VICTOR IV.
Air support for these two operations was to be furnished by Thirteenth Air Force, as part of an overall mission that included aerial support of Eighth Army throughout the Philippines south of Luzon.5 Marine air groups already on Leyte (MAG-12) and Samar (MAG-14) became reinforcing units to the Thirteenth Air Force; Marine dive bombing units on Luzon (MAG-24 and MAG-32) were scheduled to move south to Mindanao and further augment Thirteenth Air Force as soon as they could be released from supporting Sixth Army. Marine Aircraft Groups 12, 14 and 32 were directed to participate in the VICTOR IV Operations by providing direct air support missions during the landing at Zamboanga and subsequent ground operations as arranged with the Commanding General, 41st Infantry Division.
The assault on Zamboanga province was to be focused on the southern tip of that peninsula, at the town of Zamboanga. (See Map 10.) Although a part of Mindanao, the peninsula was almost completely isolated from the rest of the island. Only a narrow isthmus connected Zamboanga with the main body of land; there steep mountains and thick jungle formed an almost inpenetrable barrier. Consequently, Zamboanga-Sulu and Mindanao were considered as separate operations and were planned as such. (VICTOR IV and VICTOR V, respectively.)
Guerilla reports indicated a force of approximately 8,000 Japanese troops garrisoned in the area of Zamboanga town. Less than two miles inland from the waterfront town lay two enemy-held airstrips. One of these, Wolfe Field, had only a short runway and was inadequate for the operation of American combat aircraft. The other strip, San Roque, located on the plain between Zamboanga town and the foothills, was larger and more nearly adapted to U.S. needs. From this field a few Japanese planes (sometimes augmented by planes flown in from Borneo, 200 miles away) carried out occasional harassing missions.
San Roque Airfield, after seizure by the American assault troops as one of their prime objectives, would serve as a base of operations for Marine Aircraft Groups 12 and 32. Colonel Jerome was to be commander of the base, all the Marine units there, and certain Thirteenth Air Force squadrons which would also operate from the field. Most of the Thirteenth Air Force units, however, would conduct strikes against the Zamboanga area from bases on Leyte, Morotai and Palau.
Marine Aircraft Group 14 would continue to operate from Samar. Although the Zamboanga area was outside the practicable combat range of MAG-14, the group would support operations by strikes throughout northern and central Mindanao. In addition to its role on the air team for VICTOR IV, the Samar-based Corsair group would also fly close support missions for the VICTOR I and II Operations.
The first phase of VICTOR I was scheduled to be carried out by the 40th Infantry Division (relieved from fighting on Luzon for this mission) with an assault landing in the Oton-Tigbauan area of southern Panay on 18 March
Initial Landings of the
(G-Day). The second phase would be an attack by the same division against Negros Occidental (northwestern side of Negros Island) on 29 March (Y-Day).
The VICTOR II Operation, for which the Americal Division would furnish the assault troops, included the seizure of Cebu, Negros Oriental (eastern side of Negros) and Bohol. Target date for Cebu was 25 March (E-Day).
Plan for the final operation in the Southern Philippines was known as VICTOR V, the assault phase of which would be initiated in the Malabang-Cotabato area (west of the Mindanao "mainland") on 17 April. Ground operations were assigned to the Eighth Army's X Corps, which included the 24th and 31st Infantry Divisions. As in the other VICTOR Operations, the Thirteenth Air Force would retain over-all responsibility for air missions, but the shore-based air assignment in the assault area would be given to Marine Aircraft Group 24. The Marine group would be relieved of its duties on Luzon and moved to Malabang as soon as the airfield there was seized by the assault troops.
The role of Marine air units in the VICTOR Operations had been decided at the Leyte conferences of mid-February (discussed in Chapter III). In addition to committing the four Marine air groups already in the Philippines to these operations, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing received approval from Allied Air Forces to send additional wing units from the northern Solomons to augment the fighter and dive bomber groups in forthcoming operations. Two of these units were air warning squadrons, whose ground radio and radar equipment enabled their trained personnel to operate a fighter-director center, warn of enemy air intrusion and render homing service for lost Allied aircraft. One of the air warning squadrons would join MAG-32 at Zamboanga, the other MAG-24 at Malabang. Another new arrival to the Philippines, destined for flying duty at Zamboanga, would be a Marine medium-bomber squadron from Emirau Island in the Bismarck Archipelago.
Prelude to Zamboanga
From Bougainville to Luzon, at widely scattered bases, Marine air units began preparation for their new assignment. In several instances ground and air echelons of the same organizations were staging from different locations. MAG-32's ground personnel were on Mindoro Island in early March, readying themselves for an overwater movement to Zamboanga with the Army assault forces. (See Map 10.) With them, preparing for the same mission, were the ground echelons of MAG-12, recently moved from Leyte.6 The air echelon of MAG-32, meanwhile, was still supporting the Sixth Army on Luzon, and the four Corsair squadrons of MAG-12 (commanded by Colonel Verne J. McCaul after he relieved Colonel William A. Willis on 26 February) were conducting pre-assault missions from Tanauan Field in Leyte. Arrangements had been completed for movement of both these latter units to Zamboanga as soon as possible after San Roque Field had been seized for a base there.
MAG-14, under the command of Colonel Zebulon C. Hopkins, had flown four Corsair squadrons from Bougainville and Green Island in early January, landing at Guiuan, Samar, where the group was still based. (See Map 10.) From there it would support the VICTOR IV Operation, flying missions over the Visayas and Mindanao as directed, then returning to the home field at Samar.
Two other Marine aviation units had moved into the Philippines and were preparing for final staging toward their first combat operations there. Air Warning Squadron 4 (AWS-4) had come in from Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands, arriving at Leyte Gulf on 4 March.7 The other newcomer to the Philippines was the ground echelon of Marine Bombing
Squadron (VMB)-611,8 which landed at Mindoro on 25 February.
While preparations for the Zamboanga move proceeded on Mindoro Island, eight F4U squadrons continued daily aerial operations from Leyte and Samar. MAG's-12 and 14 had been flying almost identical missions since January. Eighth Army, conducting mopping-up operations on Leyte and Samar, occasionally requested the Marine airmen to make direct attacks on isolated enemy troops still holding out on those islands. The Corsairmen also spent many hours in the air covering shipping in Leyte Gulf. They regularly flew combat air patrol missions over U.S. convoys throughout central Philippine waterways and as far west as the Sulu Sea, off the coast of Panay Island.
The majority of their assignments, however, had been to strike enemy troops and installations in southern Visayas and Mindanao. They engaged in all manner of operations designed to soften up enemy forces throughout the area to be encompassed by the VICTOR Operations. They kept dozens of Japanese airfields pitted with bomb craters; they spotted, strafed and destroyed occasional camouflaged enemy aircraft parked near the strips. They cooperated with PT boats to hunt down and destroy supply barges vital to the isolated Japanese forces.
Strikes on Negros Island, in the southern Visayas group, were usually carried out at the request of guerilla forces. Coordination was achieved by preliminary briefing on the ground, since there were no Marine ALPmen on the island. Results of the strikes were usually unobserved, for the same reason, except for occasional reports from guerilla leaders.
MAG-12 and MAG-14 flew many of their missions over the island of Cebu during the period before the landings at Zamboanga. Both groups had started flying close support missions for guerilla forces early in February. Although the Japanese were in nominal control of Cebu, an airstrip at Taburan (near the northwest coast of the island) was in guerilla hands. Some radio jeeps had been flown in to the field by the Army,9 and missions to support guerilla activities were controlled with this equipment. Sometimes Corsair pilots made landings on the Taburan strip and at such times were given direct briefing on targets by the Filipino forces.
One such target was at Japanese-held Cebu City, where guerillas had reported two midget submarines hidden under a pier. On their first try, Marine pilots located the pier but failed to hit it; later that day the same pilots returned, and in a low-level bombing attack, released their bombs from a height of only 50 feet, to skip-bomb 500-pounders directly into the pier. One midget submarine received a direct hit and was destroyed; the end of the pier was ripped off and a motor launch which was moored to it severely damaged with a second bomb. Still another bomb hit the pier squarely, leaving a large oil slick visible to the pilots as they pulled away.
A war diary entry finished the story:
. . . This command received a dispatch from the Commander, Seventh Fleet, via the commanding general of the Thirteenth Air Force, commending the pilots for destroying one submarine and probably destroying a second at Cebu City on 25 February.10
As the time for the VICTOR IV Operation drew nearer, many of the Marine fighter groups' more important assignments dealt with targets on Mindanao. For two months the Corsairs from Leyte and Samar had pounded the island's numerous Japanese airstrips to keep them unserviceable for any camouflaged enemy planes that might have escaped detection. When hidden planes were spotted, the Marine fighter pilots raked them into uselessness with machine guns, on low
DIPOLOG FIELD, a guerilla-held strip in northern Zamboanga province. Marine Corsairs flew cover for the Zamboanga invasion from this base.
level strafing runs. They also had strafed troops and vehicles when the enemy had dared move them during daylight hours. The frequency of such strikes was stepped up considerably during the early days of March, against targets on western Mindanao and along the Zamboanga peninsula.
On Mindanao, as on Negros and Cebu, bands of Filipino guerillas held various localized areas against the intruders of their homeland.
They controlled over half a dozen airstrips where Army transport aircraft, escorted by Marine F4U's, aften landed with necessary supplies.
One of these fields held by Philippine natives was at Dipolog, 150 miles northeast of the town of Zamboanga, near the northern tip of the province. (See Map 10.) Not far from the town, in a clearing right next to the water's edge (Sulu Sea), lay a narrow grass-surfaced airstrip with importance out of proportion to the relatively small facility it afforded. General Eichelberger and his Eighth Army staff had noted the airfield at Dipolog in planning VICTOR IV Operations and were counting on it as a base from which to stage a MAG-12 fighter squadron to cover landings and subsequent assault operations in the vicinity of Zamboanga town. It seemed necessary to insure friendly control of Dipolog, at least until San Roque Airfield could be seized and readied for aircraft operations.
Guerillas had held Dipolog field and a small area inland from it for several months. Many times during January and February, Marine pilots from both Leyte and Samar had landed at the airstrip on supply missions, or simply seeking haven for their planes when weathered away from their bases. But because of increasing pressure from Japanese forces in the area, the guerillas were finding it increasingly difficult to hold Dipolog.
For this reason, the first American invasion of the Zamboanga peninsula took place at Dipolog on 8 March (two days before Zamboanga's J-Day) when two companies of the 24th Infantry Division were brought in by air to Dipolog Field.11
On the same day (8 March), naval bombardment units began a pre-assault pounding of the beaches at the other end of the peninsula, near the town of Zamboanga, and the main body of the invasion fleet departed from Mindoro, where they had been assembling for the assault. Combat air patrol for the bombardment units was furnished by Marine planes already temporarily stationed at Dipolog;12 within the next two days, 16 planes from MAG-12 had been flown to the little airstrip,13 and as the task force approached its objective from Mindoro, these planes flew cover over the convoy.
The Landings at Zamboanga--VICTOR IV
On the morning of 10 March 1945, J-Day of the VICTOR IV Operation, the 41st Division and other elements of the Eighth Army, augmented by staffs and ground crewmen of Marine Aircraft Groups 12 and 32, plus Air Warning Squadron 4, made an assault landing on beaches at San Mateo point, four miles west of the town of Zamboanga. Their purpose was to capture the town and nearby San Roque Field, as a first step toward securing the southern portion of Zamboanga peninsula. This initial phase would be followed with leapfrog operations southwestward down the Sulu Archipelago towards Borneo, and in mid-April with landing and overland operations against the rest of the island of Mindanao (VICTOR V).
Air cover for the assault forces was furnished by planes from MAG-12, flown down from the strip at Dipolog. B-24's, B-25's, and A-20's from the Thirteenth Air Force made bombing runs over the area; no aerial opposition was encountered.14
The first wave of assault troops landed at 0915 and found the heavily fortified beaches only lightly defended. An elaborate and well
MORET AIRDROME, Zamboanga, formerly San Roque Field, named in honor of LtCol Paul Moret. MAGSZAM headquarters was located at this field. Zamboanga town and Basilan Island are in the background.
camouflaged defensive system of heavy concrete pillboxes had been abandoned shortly before the arrival of U.S. troops. During the initial assault no enemy fire was observed. Twenty minutes after H-Hour, however, mortar and small caliber artillery shells began to fall inaccurately in the beach area; most of the rounds dropped into the water. The Japanese had moved back quickly to the nearby hills after exerting only token resistance to the U.S. landing, but for two days they maintained sporadic fire upon the American beachhead.15
Advance infantry elements reached the perimeter of San Roque Airfield, one of the primary U.S. objectives, on J-Day. Colonel Jerome and members of his staff scouted the strip in a jeep that afternoon and again on the following day. But San Roque was not firmly in American hands until J-plus 2, at which time the Marines began to erect a camp on the inland side of the strip.16 They promptly renamed it Moret Field, in honor of a Marine flyer, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Moret, who was killed in a plane crash at New Caledonia in 1943.17 Soon personnel from MAG's-32 and 12 had the setting up on installations well under way.
The Japanese launched a counterattack on the night following the field's capture. The aviation Marines set up a secondary defense line and spent the night in foxholes; however, units of the Army's 41st Division manning the main line of resistance quickly repelled the attack, and there was no enemy penetration. The Japanese again retreated to the foothills directly behind the field, so close that their mortar shells frequently hit on and around the strip, but Marines suffered no casualties from the shelling.18 An Army howitzer battalion
adjacent to the field retaliated, but results could not he assessed.
Until J-plus 5, the enemy continued to harass the field with fire from the foothills. There was also one aerial attack against Moret Field during this period, when, on 13 March, a lone Japanese pilot bombed and made two strafing runs over the strip. Little damage and no casualties resulted.19
By 15 March the 41st Division's 162d Infantry had secured the commanding terrain near Masilay and the high ground overlooking San Roque, and the 163d Infantry spent the day in mopping up and securing the Pasananca sector (5 miles inland from the beach), where the waterworks, supply reservoir and power plant that served the city of Zamboanga were located. MAG-12 Corsairs taking off from Dipolog had made support strikes in this area on 12 and 14 March. Dipolog-based planes had also flown daily patrol missions over the beach area during this period.
With infantrymen of the 41st Division in control of the area as far inland as Pasananca, Moret Field was secured against enemy action. Installations for full flight operations were already set up when the first planes flew in to the new Marine airbase on 15 March. First to arrive was a flight of eight Corsairs from VMF-115, led by Major Eldon H. Railsback. During the next three days, flight echelons of VMF-211, VMF-218, and VMF-313 (all from MAG-12) arrived from Tanauan Field, Leyte, and commenced operations.
Moret Field was also ready to receive MAG-32's dive bombers on 15 March, and Colonel Jerome had expected to have them available for use at Zamboanga immediately, but it was actually nine days later before the first SBD's arrived from Luzon. Sixth Army had been most reluctant to release them (see Chapter III) but displacement of the four squadrons finally began on 24 March. VMSB's 236 and 142 arrived at Moret on the 24th; followed by VMSB-341 on the 25th and VMSB-243 on the 26th.
Even before the SBD's of MAG-32 arrived, Thirteenth Air Force had designated Colonel Jerome as Commander, Marine Aircraft Groups Zamboanga (MAGSZAM), which would include not only MAG-12 and MAG-32, but also MAG-24 when it arrived on Mindanao a month later.20 The organization for flight operations was set up by Lieutenant Colonel Keith B. McCutcheon, who, although the operations officer of MAG-24 (still at Mangaldan), had accompanied Colonel Jerome from Luzon for the express purpose of placing into effect an operations structure similar to the one used by MAGSDAGUPAN.
Close Air Support--Magszam
MAGSZAM had one primary mission: close support of ground troops. For the SBD squadrons, fresh from a similar assignment on Luzon, such work was already an old story. For the Corsair squadrons, however, other missions had taken precedence over close air support during the Leyte operation. (See Chapter II). MAG-12's Corsairs had been brought into Leyte originally to serve in a fighter capacity--to provide air defense, attack enemy shipping, and escort friendly convoys and air transports. Only in a few isolated instances had they flown close support missions on Leyte, and since they did not have their own air liaison parties, even these few missions were flown without direct front-line control. Nevertheless, during the early months of 1945 they had carried out an increasing number of close support missions in the southern Visayan islands, working in close cooperation with Army ground controllers21 or guerillas.
As a result, by the time of the Zamboanga operation the Corsairmen had grown proficient in these duties.
The Corsairs, although designed as fighter planes, proved to be well adapted for close support work. They had three bomb racks capable of carrying a variety of bomb and napalm loadings, and they were armed with six forward-firing machine guns. Faster than the SBD's they possessed ample speed to get in and out of a target area in a hurry. Also, since Corsairs were equipped with both VHF and MHF radio sets, they fitted into the air-ground liaison system easily, without a necessity for additions or alterations to existing equipment.
After MAGSZAM operations began to get well under way, and the dive bombers had arrived from Luzon, the F4U's and SBD's frequently carried out assignments together, and they made a good team. Both were capable of delivering close and accurate support attacks, and the Corsair could serve as a fighter escort for the more vulnerable dive bomber on the way and to and from the target area.
The organization for close air support at MAGSZAMBOANGA was simpler and more effective than it had been on Luzon; simpler, because the Marines were the only aviation organization in the area (during most of the operation) and more effective, because the 41st Division permitted its regiments to request air support directly from MAGSZAM.
The Marine operations officer acted as the direct representative of Colonel Jerome, the commanding officer of MAGSZAM, to control all air operations. This included air defense and deep support as well as close support missions. He formed support air parties to be sent out to the regiments, and these SAP's sent their air liaison parties to the battalions.
Support air parties usually consisted of a captain (who was an intelligence officer), one or more first lieutenants (Marine aviators learning to take over air liaison parties), two or more radio operators and two or more radio technicians. This air-ground liaison team used two types of mobile radio equipment: one, a large van containing VHF and
FILIPINO LABORERS augment 873d Aviation Engineer Battalion's efforts to enlarge Moret Field, 23 April 1945.
MHF radios with ranges of over 100 miles; the other, a jeep that, mounting less powerful sets of both types, was used only for distances up to 15 miles. The choice of radio truck or radio jeep depending on how far away from MAGSZAM operations the parties functioned.22
The air liaison parties consisted of a Marine aviator (who had been trained on the job in Luzon), a radio operator, and a technician. Their equipment included the radio jeep, a field telephone which could be connected to the radio, maps, and aerial photographs. The air-ground liaison setup was aided greatly by the additional communications facilities afforded by Air Warning Squadron 4 (AWS-4), now designated as 76th Fighter Control Center, and stationed at Moret Field. The mission of AWS-4 included steering lost aircraft back to base and detecting approaching enemy raiding planes;23 in addition, however, it augmented existing air-ground radio circuits with its own radio and radar equipment, creating a joint support air party and fighter-director setup.24 The air support networks, jeeps and air liaison parties were ready to operate by the time the F4U's first took station at Moret on 15 March, and the newly-arrived Corsairs flew their first close support mission from the new base on the following day, when MAGSZAM planes furnished air cover for the 41st Division's landings on Basilan Island, just off the tip of Zamboanga peninsula.25
During early days of operation on the peninsula, front lines were only a mile or two from the airfield. As in the fight for Bloody Nose Ridge at Peleliu, the Corsairs took off, circled, and dropped their bombs in plain sight of their own field. It was (as one of the ALPmen, Captain Samuel H. McAloney, later described it) "an intimate war." Pilots, while being briefed, could scan the target area from the briefing tent. The ALP officer who was to control the strike would point out features of the terrain that he had already observed at close quarters.26 After the briefing, as the pilots prepared for take-off on the mission, the ALP would return by jeep to his forward observation post (OP) and direct the flyers in to the target. Mission completed, he would drive back to interrogate the pilots when they landed.
Ground personnel at the airfield could stand on the runway, only a couple of miles from the scene of action, and see the whole show. And many of the pilots who were taken to frontline positions to observe strikes learned from personal experience something of the point of view of the ground forces and the difficulties they might have when a support strike was being organized.27
As a direct result of the close cooperation with ground force commanders and forward artillery observers, the aviation Marines were able to work some new variations into close support tactics, usually with a high degree of success. One such variation, improvised from means readily at hand, was used in striking reverse slope positions difficult to hit with artillery. To direct the air support called for on such missions, ALPmen took to the air in artillery spotting planes. Since the artillery and air control radio frequencies were not the same, the air observer relayed directions to the planes via a forward artillery observer and another ALPmen working side by side on the ground. This roundabout method was eliminated later by mounting L-5 plane radios
in the Marine planes so instructions could be given directly.28
But one of the most unusual air-ground devices used during the entire Zamboanga operation was employed on 27 March near guerilla-held Dipolog airstrip.29 In answer to a request from the American officer in charge of the guerillas, Major Donald H. Wills, AUS, a division of four VMF-115 Corsairs (led by Captain Rolfe F. Blanchard) was dispatched to Dipolog.
About 150 Japanese troops, armed with two knee mortars, a light machine gun, two automatic rifles, and more than a hundred rifles, had advanced to within 16 kilometers of Dipolog. They were well-seasoned troops that had been moved into the area from Zamboanga about five weeks earlier.30 The more than 500 Filipino guerillas who opposed the Japanese forces "were evidently keenly interested in avoiding a fight with the Japs."31 Major Wills felt that an air strike might boost their morale and damage the enemy at the same time.
There were no maps or photographs of any kind available, no method for marking targets, and no means of communication with the troops--all these factors combined to make control of the strike by normal means impossible. But ingenuity found a way.
Into the cockpit of a Marine Corsair climbed Major Wills, who was thoroughly familiar with the enemy positions; after him climbed the smallest of the Marine pilots in the division, First Lieutenant Winfield S. Sharpe. Both men squeezed into the narrow confines of the cockpit, with Sharpe sitting on Major Wills' lap. Soon afterward, with the major pointing out targets to the pilot, the Corsair led the four plane division in six strafing passes over the enemy's positions. The planes used all ammunition with which they had been loaded; the enemy area was thoroughly
"AIR-GROUND COORDINATION"--2dLt W. C. Olsen and 1stLt W. S. Sharpe demonstrate the method used to carry Major D. H. Wills, AUS, leader of Dipolog guerilla forces, as he directed Marine Corsairs against jungle-hidden enemy positions.
strafed, compelling the Japanese to withdraw 3-5 kilometers.32
MAGSZAM, with both the SBD and F4U, already possessed a wider choice of weapons than had MAGSDAGUPAN, but on 30 March its striking power was augmented even further. The flight echelon of Marine Bombing Squadron 611 (commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George H. Sarles) arrived from Emirau with 16 PBJ's (Mitchell medium bombers). These versatile aircraft were capable of carrying eight rockets, 3,000 pounds of bombs, and could strafe with eight to fourteen (depending on the model) .50 caliber machine guns. Equipped with air-borne radar, dual instrument panels (one each for pilot and copilot), long-range radio gear and very complete navigation equipment for the navigator-bombardier, the PBJ was exceptionally well
qualified for operating at night and in periods of low visibility.
Intensive training back on Emirau had prepared the five-man PBJ crews to render coordinated low-level bombing and strafing attacks with remarkable accuracy. Their long range surface search radar sets made it possible to conduct bombing, rocket, and even low-level strafing attacks at night with almost daylight precision.
Crews of the PBJ's were put to work almost immediately after their arrival, flying long-range reconnaissance patrols over Borneo and Mindanao, photographing future landing areas in the Sulu Archipelago, probing the seas for enemy submarines, and attacking specific targets. Because the Japanese were now traveling after dark almost exclusively, the PBJ's were used many times in night raids, to strike truck convoys and airfield areas in Mindanao, and to conduct night heckling missions on the Japanese-held islands to the southwest. The use of the PBJ's in this manner enabled MAGSZAM to keep planes in the air on a 24-hour basis, interdicting Japanese supply routes and attacking important enemy installations around the clock.
The Southern Visayas--VICTOR I
While the 41st Division was pushing its way up the Zamboanga peninsula, two other Eighth Army divisions were making new assaults on the islands of the Central Philippines. VICTOR I Operations began on 18 March when elements of the 40th Infantry Division made unopposed landings on the southeast coast of Panay. Planes from three of MAG-14's Samar-based fighter squadrons were on hand to support these landings. (See Map 10.)
Twenty-one Corsairs of VMF-222 flew over the area on combat patrol during the day of the landing; no enemy planes attempted to interfere. The squadron's only attack mission was the strafing of six steel barges anchored in nearby Iloilo River. VMF-251 pilots found even fewer targets. Working in two-plane flights and cooperating closely with PT boats from Seventh Fleet, they searched Iloilo Strait (the waters adjacent to the Army's landing on Panay) in vain for signs of enemy activity.
VMF-223, however, had a more active day. Three four-plane divisions were assigned to make fighter sweeps of airdromes on western Negros; there the Marine pilots denied the Japanese use of six airstrips during the Panay landings. Enemy fields at Bacolod, Talisay, Manapla, Fabrica, Silay and La Carlota, all on Negros Island, were strafed. Two ZEKES (Japanese single-seater fighters) in apparently servicable condition were destroyed by machine-gun fire--one at Silay, one at La Carlota.33
All four of MAG-14's fighter squadrons flew continuing daylight combat air patrols over the Panay landing area for several days, encountering no enemy air opposition. Targets on the ground were equally scarce; Army forces were meeting meager resistance. Only after the third straight day of uneventful air patrolling did the 40th Division fighter-director ask four Corsairs, then "on station" in the area, to strafe a wooded section where enemy troops were believed to be concealed. The flyers thoroughly raked the designated spot.
Even on the days when the 40th Division troops had no need of close air support, however, the Marine patrol flights concluded their sorties constructively. As the Corsairmen flew over Negros or Cebu on their return trips from Panay to Samar, guerillas usually radioed suggested targets to be bombed or strafed. On one such homeward flight, four planes of VMF-251 spotted a boat towing a barge along the northwest coast of Negros. The division leader checked by radio with guerilla headquarters at Taburan and received permission to attack the surface craft. After riddling both vessels the pilots again headed for Samar until, over the town of Daga in northern Negros, they saw a 15-car freight train. It was motionless, but the two engines (one on each end of the train) both had up full heads of steam. The pilots asked for and received guerilla approval to strike this target of opportunity. Two passing Army P-38's joined in, and the
six American planes strafed the train from end to end. Most of the boxcars were left blazing, and one engine blew up with a violent explosion.34
The Southern Visayas--VICTOR II
Eight days after VICTOR I, on 26 March,35 VICTOR II was launched, when the Americal Division landed on Cebu Island. (See Map 10.) The initial assault was made at 0730, at a point 10 miles south of Cebu City. Throughout the day MAG-14 planes were kept busy attacking troops and vehicles as the Japanese began a hasty evacuation of the island's capital city. Targets for the airmen were plentiful as caravans of trucks and enemy troops on foot scurried into the hills northwest of Cebu City. At least 20 trucks were destroyed by the airmen's .50-caliber machine guns, and an undetermined number of casualties was inflicted upon the fleeing troops.
On 29 March MAG-14 aircraft covered the first landing in force on Negros, made by elements of the 40th Division in a shore-to-shore operation from Panay. After that the remainder of the southern Visayan operations became primarily a matter of tracking down isolated enemy troops throughout the islands.
Nevertheless, close support missions for MAG-14 increased greatly in April. In addition to the guerilla ground directors, the Army divisions' support air parties were now in full operation on all of the newly invaded islands. Thirteenth Air Force Headquarters on Leyte directed the Marine group by daily assignment schedules to report in for control by various support air parties. Air coordinators were also frequently furnished by the Thirteenth Air Force. Working in close cooperation with the Marines, air coordinators in B-24's led the flights to target areas and pointed out objectives. Because the air coordinators were well briefed on the ground situation, excellent results were obtained by this method.
Planes of MAG-14, in spite of unusually bad weather, flew a total of over 5,800 hours during April, an average of almost nine hours per day per plane. This high average per plane was necessitated by Corsair losses, both combat and operational, during March and April.36 Replacement aircraft were available only in very limited numbers, a situation that at times even necessitated lending airplanes among squadrons of MAG-14. Sometimes squadron commanders were reluctant to have another squadron fly their planes, so they would lend both planes and pilots.37
By early May the need for air support in the Central Philippines had decreased. The invasion of Okinawa had commenced over a month earlier (1 April), and additional U.S. air strength was required there. Therefore, upon authority of the Commanding General, Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, and after approval by Allied Air Forces, Marine Aircraft Group 14 was transferred from the 1st to the 2d Marine Aircraft Wing (based at Okinawa). The group ceased combat operations at Samar on 15 May; the remainder of the month was devoted to familiarization with new F4U-4's, which had finally been received to replace the older model Corsairs.
On 18 May Colonel Edward A. Montgomery relieved Colonel Hopkins as group commander, and on 24 May, Colonel Montgomery departed by air transport to make preparations for the group to follow him to Okinawa.38
CEBU CITY DEFENSES were attacked by MAG-14's fighter-bombers before U.S. troops seized the city.
Effective 1 June, VMF-251 of MAG-14 was decommissioned;39 pilots of that squadron not due for return to the United States were transferred into the three remaining squadrons of the group.
On 7 June MAG-14's air echelon began its air-borne movement from Samar to Okinawa. The first flight of planes, 32 Corsairs from VMF-212, left Guiuan Airstrip for Clark Field on Luzon, continuing on to Okinawa the next day. VMF-222 and VMF-223 followed, in that order. By 11 June all MAG-14 aircraft had departed from the Philippine Islands.
During their four months on Samar, they had flown a total of 22,671 combat hours, consisting of 7,396 individual sorties. They had destroyed 28 enemy planes on the ground, and rendered close air support for Eighth Army troops throughout the Central Philippines and Mindanao. MAG-14, although not officially a member of MAGSZAMBOANGA, had done its share in the VICTOR Operations. For its part in these operations, Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger, Commanding Eighth Army, later wrote this commendation:
. . . Marine Air Group Fourteen rendered an outstanding performance in supporting overwater and ground operations against the enemy at Leyte, Samar, Palawan, Panay, Cebu, and Negros; Philippine Islands. This group provided convoy cover, fighter defense, fire bombing, dive bombing and strafing in
support of ground troops. The enthusiasm of commanders and pilots, their interest in the ground situation and their eagerness to try any method which might increase the effectiveness of close air support, were responsible in a large measure for keeping casualties at a minimum among ground combat troops.
It affords me great pleasure to commend the officers and men of the Marine Air Group Fourteen for their important contribution in the brilliant success of operations in the Philippine Islands.40
Drive into the Sulu Archipelago Begins
Thus, VICTORS I and II had reached successful conclusions. But in no sense had these operations proceeded in strategic isolation from the rest of the Philippines campaign; for, even as elements of the 40th Infantry Division consolidated their Panay beachhead (VICTOR I) on 18 March, soldiers of the 41st Division were drawing an ever-tightening noose around the defenders of the southern portion of Zamboanga. By the end of the month effective resistance in the latter area had virtually ceased. Nor did this exhaust the compass of the sprawling campaign: The westernmost island of the Philippines, Palawan, 300 miles northwest of Zamboanga, had fallen to one regiment of the 41st Infantry Division in the VICTOR III Operation (H-Day: 28 February).41
On 2 April the 41st Division forces, in a continuation of the VICTOR IV Operation, thrust deep into the Sulu Archipelago, landing on the west coast of Sanga Sanga in the Tawi Tawi group, 30 miles from Borneo. (See Map 10.) The chief reasons for striking first at the extreme southern end of the Sulu Archipelago were to establish an airfield there to protect the Eighth Army's southern flank, and to provide an advance base from which the Thirteenth Air Force could strike Borneo.42
There was little opposition encountered on Sanga Sanga, and later the same day Army units executed a shore-to-shore assault from Sanga Sanga to nearby Bongao Island. Marine planes covered both landings; MAG-12's commanding officer, Colonel Verne J. McCaul, served as Support Air Commander, and Captain Samuel McAloney as Support Air Controller.
The control room of the destroyer USS Saufley was rigged up with three air support circuits--one to control the combat air patrol (CAP), another for air-sea rescue operations, and the final one for direction of support missions on the beach.43 At both the Sanga Sanga and Bongao landings, while Marine Corsairs and Dauntless circled "on station" overhead, a radio jeep was boated to land with the troops; once the Marine air-ground liaison team hit the beach, direction of the strike planes was turned over to them. This arrangement gave the troop commander planes for support action whenever he needed them.44
While the landing on Sanga Sanga was taking place as scheduled (with troops going ashore north of a Japanese airstrip on the island, and then swinging south immediately to cross over to Bongao, where the enemy was located in greater force), 44 dive bombers of MAG-32 dropped 20 tons of bombs on Bongao under the direction of ship and shore support air parties. Nine SBD's of VMSB-236 hit a Jap observation post and a large building on Bongao with seven 500- and 14 250-pounders with good results. Eight more SBD's of VMSB-236 hit gun positions and trenches along the slope of a hill, with three tons of bombs splattering the area. A third flight of nine planes plastered troop concentrations and set fire to a building on the slopes of Bongao with nine 500-lb. and 18 250-lb. bombs.
Combat air patrol over Sanga Sanga was flown by six flights of four Corsairs each
(from VMF-115 and VMF-211), a total of 24 sorties. The Corsairs also destroyed a radar station on Bongao, made a direct hit on a Japanese command post, and started a large fire and explosion with strafing (later confirmed by dive bombers). During the day Corsairs and SBD's knocked out at least three gun emplacements.45
For two more days the Marine flyers "on station" over Sanga Sanga and Bongao Islands were called in by the ALP's to pin-point specific targets in the mountainous terrain of the latter island, and until 8 April Corsairs continued to provide air cover, but the ground troops had no further need for direct support. For this reason, most of the air effort was speedily redirected toward the scene of the next amphibious assault.
Close Air Support at Jolo
The same pattern used at Sanga Sanga and Bongao was followed a week later, when, on 9 April, troops of the 41st Division made a shore-to-shore landing from Zamboanga to Jolo Island, 80 miles southwest in the Sulu Archipelago. (See Map 10.) With them went a support air team from MAG-32; Support Air Commander was Lieutenant Colonel John L. Smith, and Support Air Controller Afloat, Captain Samuel H. McAloney. The Marines' landing party was headed by Captain James L. McConaughy and consisted of five officers and 11 men, equipped with a radio truck and two radio jeeps.
In many respects the Jolo campaign was almost ideal for the employment of close air support. The island was in easy range of Moret Field, only 80 miles away; the extremely aggressive Moro guerillas had crowded the Japanese troops into limited positions even before the American landings, and the problem of ground to air communications had been greatly simplified by the fact that they could be handled exclusively and directly by a MAG-32 support air team.46
The Japanese on Jolo had prepared their main defensive positions on five mountains on the island. The story of the operation is primarily
TAIL OF ENEMY FIGHTER PLANE furnished an appropriate emblem for MAGSZAM's base at Zamboanga, Moret Field.
that of a methodical reduction of those positions: Bangkal, Patikul, Tumatangas, Datu, and Daho.
Landings were made on scattered beaches in the general vicinity of Jolo town, on the northwest coast of the island.47 The Marine ALP's and their jeeps were ordered to land from an LSM (Landing Ship, Medium) at H-plus 3 minutes. Unfortunately, the LSM could not pull in close enough to shore, and the jeeps disembarked into four feet of water. Before they could be put in operable condition, it was necessary to retrieve the jeeps, disassemble the radios, wash the parts with water from canteens, dry them with carbon tetrachloride (from fire extinguishers) and reassemble the radios.48
The SCR-299 (radio truck) landed at H-plus 90 minutes (on a different beach) in good working order. As coordinated close support against targets near the American lines was unfeasible until the radio jeeps were back in commission, Captain McConaughy and the regimental S-2 studied aerial photographs, and picked out targets at least a mile ahead of 41st Division troops. By the use of the grid system and a lengthy description, these targets were designated from the SCR-299 to the planes, which were then allowed to attack at their own discretion.49
Within a week after the Jolo landing (9 April), most of the island had been taken by American troops, and at least 1,200 of the Japanese defenders killed. Mt. Daho, four miles southeast of Jolo town, was the citadel of the island, and the last enemy strong-point to fall. A preliminary bombardment by both air and ground weapons had been directed against the heavily fortified ravines ringing the foot of the mountain, but when the 163d Regiment infantrymen shoved off, many hitherto unspotted Japanese guns in well-camouflaged positions opened up, and the Americans were forced to retreat after having reached their objective. Thirty-two casualties were sustained in a matter of minutes. The preliminary bombardment had not been heavy or precise enough.
For the next five days, from 17 through 21 April, Mt. Daho's northwest slope was thoroughly bombed and strafed. On 22 April an especially heavy strike took place--33 SBD's and four rocket-carrying PBJ's hit Japanese positions which had previously been noted by ground observers; immediately after the strike, 41st Division troops moved forward. They drew only two shots and suffered no casualties. The 41st Infantry Division History reports:
. . . The combined shelling and bombing was so effective that the doughboys were able to move forward at a rapid pace without a single casualty. The area was found littered with bodies of 235 Japs and it was believed that many more had sealed themselves into caves and blown themselves to bits. This broke the Jap stand in the sector . . .50
How this intensive close air support affected the morale of the enemy was indicated in a diary written by a Japanese soldier during the Mt. Daho action:
Airplanes can really make warfare misery for us . . . If we only had planes--even one would help. April 18--Again received artillery and air bombardment . . . Remained in air raid shelter all night. April 19--Received very intense air bombing . . . The entire mountain became bald and some air raid shelters collapsed while huts were blown apart . . . It is depressing to fight a losing battle . . .51
Strategic Background of VICTOR V
The threat of enemy-held Mindanao to the Allied Forces in the Southern Philippines had been greatly lessened since the beginning of the VICTOR Operations. Even though the Japanese force on Mindanao was still a large
MARINE DIVE BOMBERS STRIKE Mt. Daho, strongly held enemy position on Jolo Island, as members of a 41st Infantry Division gun crew watch.
one,52 it was stretched thin, trying to cover a relatively wide area. A shortage of transportation, coupled with very bad roads and the dangers of moving by day under the constant threat of air attacks, made it extremely difficult for the enemy to concentrate his troops at any given point.
The basic plan for the VICTOR V Operation envisaged an assault landing in the Cotabato-Malabang area (on the west coast of the mainland of Mindanao, bordering Illano Bay (see Map 11). From an initial foothold there, American Forces would conduct a series of overland and shore-to-shore operations to clear hostile forces from all of the island.53
R-Day, target date for initial landings, was set for 17 April; Eighth Army's X Corps would make the assault. Divisions assigned to the X Corps were the 24th, veterans of the Leyte Operation, and the 31st, recently engaged in operations on Morotai. Corps Headquarters and troops were to be mounted out of Leyte, the 24th Division from Mindoro, and the 31st from Morotai and Sansapor.54
Major General Paul B. Wurtsmith's Thirteenth Air Force, reinforced by elements of the Fifth Air Force, the Royal Australian Air
Command, and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, was designated "air assault force" for the Mindanao Operation.55 Its mission prescribed a continuing air offensive over the Southern and Central Philippines to neutralize Japanese air, ground, and naval forces, and to prevent Japanese reinforcements and supplies from reaching the objective area.56
Fifth Air Force (less elements assigned to Thirteenth Air Force), under the command of Major General Ennis C. Whitehead, was assigned in support of the operation. It would furnish aerial reconnaissance, photography, and air cover for the convoys and naval forces.
Army Air Force planners estimated that the minimum air force necessary for the landing phase of the operation would be one fighter group, one light bomber group, and one medium bomber group to provide cover and support from R-minus 5 to R-plus 5. An air garrison was to consist of one dive bomber group, one flight of night fighters, a squadron of fighters, and one liaison squadron from the air assault forces.57
At the earliest possible date after R-Day, the dive bombers of Colonel Lyle H. Meyer's Marine Aircraft Group 24 would be flown from Luzon to the Malabang Airstrip and take station there, 150 miles across the Moro Gulf from the Marines at Moret Field, Zamboanga. MAG-24's ground echelon arrived in Mindoro on 12 April, and left that island two days later in a convoy with 24th Division assault troops. During its operations on Mindanao, MAG-24 once again would be under the direction of Colonel Jerome, for the Malabang-based group would be a part of Marine Aircraft Groups, Zamboanga.
The Landings at Malabang--VICTOR V
Even as MAGSZAM planes assisted in the assault on Jolo Island, their planes were also directing aerial effort against the west coast of Mindanao, in preparation for the forthcoming VICTOR V Operations. An estimated 600-700 Japanese trapped in the outskirts of Malabang by guerilla forces were whittled down to less than 300 in 10 days of intensive air strikes before the landing. The remaining enemy troops, having finally had enough of an aerial pounding, broke through the thin-spread guerilla forces and fled south, two days before the American troops landed; this move left Filipino guerilla forces in undisputed possession of both Malabang town and its nearby airstrip.58
For two weeks before R-Day (17 April--the day designated for VICTOR V assault landings), Marine pilots from Zamboanga landed their planes on the Malabang Airstrip, conferred with the guerillas, and were briefed for choice targets in the tangled undergrowth nearby. Most of the strikes at that time were concentrated on the coastal region edging Moro Gulf. (See Map 11.)
Although there were over two dozen airstrips controlled by the enemy on Mindanao, the Americans had obtained complete air supremacy, and no opposition confronted the pilots from the air as they bombed and strafed ground installations.
When, early in the morning of 17 April 1945, Rear Admiral Albert G. Noble's Task Group 78.2 began bombarding the beaches of Parang, the landing phase of the VICTOR V Operation was underway. These beaches, lying about 17 miles south of Malabang on the Moro Gulf, had been selected for the main assault area for the last operation in the Philippines; the original plan to land at Malabang was changed at the last minute. As General Eichelberger explains it:
Originally we had expected to make our first landing at Malabang. But now we received word from Colonel Fertig [American leader of guerilla forces on Mindanao] that the guerillas had seized both Malabang town and the airfield there. While we were at sea we completely revised our assault plans. The landing force to be sent to Malabang was reduced to one battalion, and we decided to make our main effort at Parang, seventeen miles down the coast. This would
eliminate the reshipping of supplies from Malabang to Parang and hasten our drive inland.59
Corsairs, Dauntlesses and Mitchells from Zamboanga had a busy day over the new beachhead. Eighteen SBD's of VMSB-341 and 17 SBD's of VMSB-142 were on "air alert" over the Parang and Malabang landing areas. An Army support air party made full use of both flights by having each of the 35 planes drop a 500-lb. bomb on targets that included enemy supply areas, troop concentrations and installations. Twenty Corsairs (VMF-211) in two-plane flights flew combat air patrol over the beaches, while 10 additional F4U's (VMF-218) covered the cruiser force supporting the landing.
As their patrol missions would terminate, the planes involved were given bombing or strafing targets or reconnaissance missions by the support air party. An important road junction just west of Kabakan (50 miles inland from the landing area) came under observation of the patrolling Marine airmen all day. The Japanese attempted to use the inland roads to resupply and reinforce their west coast positions, but F4U's and SBD's kept the highways clear by strafing any enemy vehicles that tried to move westward along them. One Corsair flight over Kabakan bombed a large building, which exploded and started a tremendous fire. Other hits by the same flight destroyed a river ferry west of the town and neutralized a machine gun position.
Two PBJ's of VMB-611 kept up the steady pounding of Del Monte airfields in north central Mindanao, dropping three tons of bombs on gun positions and scoring three direct hits. Four other VMB-611's PBJ's flew anti-submarine patrol in the Cotabato area, with no contact reported.60
Meanwhile, back on the Parang beachhead, the first Marine ground unit ashore was Air Warning Squadron 3 (AWS-3), which disembarked at noon on R-Day; their immediate mission was to establish a protective alert against enemy planes. For this purpose they set up an SCR-602 radar unit on the beach and established radio communication with the control ship standing off shore.61
In late afternoon the rest of the Marine units came ashore. Like AWS-3, the personnel of VMSB-244 landed at Parang with the main body of the X Corps invasion forces. But all the rest of the aviation Marines, including headquarters personnel and the remainder of the MAG-24 squadrons, made a separate landing with one Army infantry battalion and some engineer units, three miles north of Malabang Field. Neither the Parang nor Malabang landing parties encountered enemy opposition. In a dismal downpour of rain, and with darkness coming on, all hands turned to unloading supplies and equipment from the LST's.62
By 1000 on R-plus 1, AWS-3 had already completed a movement from the south of almost 20 miles to the guerilla-held Malabang Airstrip (on the coast two miles north of Malabang town) and had put its second SCR-602
FILIPINO GUERILLAS captured Malabang airstrip and town prior to Allied landings. Marine PBJ's in the background have just landed after bombing enemy positions only 1,000 yards from the strip, which later became Titcomb Field, for MAG-24.
radar unit into operation. The crew of the second unit, in addition to its air warning assignment, acted as temporary field operations, guiding and instructing planes in distress and giving supply-laden transport aircraft information about landing conditions and facilities available at the air strip.
Movement to the strip from the north, where the majority of MAG-24's personnel had landed, was slow and difficult. Transportation of men and equipment was badly bogged down. The enemy in retreating had destroyed the bridges across three steep-banked streams, and the only available road was in an extremely bad condition because of the deep and sticky mud so typical of the islands. The Marines were messed and quartered on board the LST's until the unloading was completed. Supplies and equipment were piled high on the beach in an orderly semicircle, awaiting the construction of bridges by Army engineers.
Within two days the engineers had done the job, and much of the Marine's equipment had been hauled along the ragged and overgrown plantation road, crossing the newly bridged streams to the airstrip.63
COLONEL LYLE H. MEYER, center, Commanding Officer of Marine Aircraft Group-24, shown with Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger, left, Commanding General, Eighth Army, and Major General Franklin C. Sibert, X Corps Commander.
The Marines re-named the airstrip "Titcomb Field," in honor of Captain John A. Titcomb, who had died of wounds received while a member of a support air party on Luzon.64 (See Chapter III.) Guerillas were used to guard the field and any planes that landed there. By 20 April (R-plus 3) when MAG-24's planes began to arrive from Luzon, the pilots and crews found an engineering line already set up and a camp area beginning to take shape.65 First of the dive bomber squadrons to arrive was VMSB-241; on the following day the flight echelon of VMSB-133 arrived, and on 22 April the last SBD squadron, VMSB-244, landed safely at Malabang.
By 21 April AWS-3, designated as the 77th Fighter Control Center, assumed fighter direction and local air warning responsibility from the control ship assigned to the landing. By that time two radar search sets, four VHF (very high frequency) radio channels, four MHF (medium high frequency) administrative and liaison channels, and two intra-sector plotting channels had been established. The air warning squadron maintained close liaison with the Army's 116th AAA Group, which had established its command post at the squadron's temporary fighter control center. Radio and radar sets were operating 24 hours a day, guarding all channels with no interruption except for necessary maintenance periods on individual units of equipment.66
On 22 April MAG-24 commenced air operations in support of the 24th and 31st Divisions, whose forces were pushing eastward across Mindanao. (See Map 11.) Strikes were concentrated in two principal areas: (1) Davao City and environs and the western margin of Davao Gulf south to Sarangani Bay. (2) The Central Valley, from Kibawe north along both sides of the Sayre Highway to Del Monte.67
Air support strikes on Mindanao differed from those on Luzon in several fundamental respects. Mindanao, especially in the area northwest of Davao where many of the support missions were flown, had a relatively open and rolling terrain. The numerous rivers offered good points of reference for locating targets, and white phosphorus shells to mark the targets could be placed accurately and spotted easily from the air. The Central Valley region offered similar terrain along the Sayre Highway, and numerous small clusters of buildings were destroyed in front of the ground forces advancing both from the south and the north.68 Few strikes were as close to the front lines of American troops as they had been on Luzon, although there were occasional exceptions.
Requests for air strikes on Mindanao were routed through the X Corps air section, and coordination of missions accomplished through support air parties of either the 24th or 31st Divisions. MAG-24 sent its forward control
teams to each of the divisions, and these Marine ALP's worked with flights from both Moret and Titcomb airfields. Marine pilots flew daily roadsweeps, in addition to the strikes requested on special targets. They also maintained regularly scheduled "air alerts" for strikes on targets of opportunity at the request of SAP'S and ALP's. Aircraft were directed to targets either by ground or air observers or both. Usually objectives were marked with smoke or white phosphorus shells; guerillas occasionally used panels to mark the front lines.69
There was a greatly increased use of air coordinators. A squadron air coordinator led 22 VMSB-241 strikes, as compared with six for the same squadron on Luzon;70 other MAG-24 squadrons showed proportionate increases. Frequently, especially against enemy positions on reverse slopes calling for planes rather than artillery, the air coordinator was airborne in an artillery spotting plane. In order to direct the strike, he had to relay messages to the Marine planes via artillery nets and air nets.
The groups also used their own air liaison parties to a greater extent in Zamboanga and Mindanao than they had at Luzon. The knowledge and experience of the flying personnel used as ground controllers was of great value in keeping planes on the right targets and clear of friendly troops. Conversely, the things pilots learned about ground problems while they were doing ALP work was reflected later in their own air discipline and close support work.
Having been chased to cover by hostile machinegun fire while trying to direct planes impressed on them the problems encountered on the ground. Their association with ground communications gave them an understanding of difficulties when air-ground contact was impaired or delayed.
To make the turnabout complete, ground personnel went on SBD dive-bombing missions, getting first-hand the flight leader's point of view.71
Strikes were usually directed against small enemy troop concentrations away from population centers; relatively few populated places were occupied by the Japanese on Mindanao. Davao City offered one of the few good targets for big strikes, and even it had been largely destroyed by carrier aircraft before ground operations commenced.72
During the drive against Davao in April and early May, air support was of prime importance to the infantry; by this time the ground troops had become well indoctrinated and were extremely cooperative in the air strikes. However, during one phase of the operation, the infantrymen of the 24th Division did not wait to sample the kind of air support MAGSZAM had cooked up for them; they dashed so briskly across Mindanao that they found themselves at the outskirts of Davao far ahead of schedule.73 Only then did heavy opposition develop.
Once more close support came into its own, both in the Talomo-Libby Airdrome sector near Davao, and to the northwest, along the Sayre Highway. (See Map 11.) The Kibawe-Talomo Trail (running towards Davao from the northwest) became a regular hunting ground for the low-flying PBJ's of VMB-611 (in this unexplored and precipitous area, Lieutenant Colonel George H. Sarles, the squadron's commander, was lost on 30 May); and MAG-32's SBD's, together with MAG-12's fighters and the dive bombers of MAG-24,
CURTIS "HELLDIVERS;" SB2C-4's armed with rockets and bombs replaced SBD's of VMSB-244.
now based at Titcomb Field, also pressed the attack.
An enemy strong point in a wooded area astride the Sayre Highway near Pinamalay Lake (central Mindanao) was repeatedly struck from the air. A former participating pilot says of this action:
. . . This was the most heavily bombed area of any in the whole Philippine campaign. The Japs were dug in underneath trees and in foxholes so well that we had to blow up the whole area before the army could advance. Our Marine observers, who were with ground liaison party in this area, said the damage was terrible and almost indescribable. Flight after flight of planes bombed and strafed this small area for days. When we began it was a heavily wooded area and when we finished there wasn't . . . anything left but a few denuded trees. It was from these Marine observers that we pilots found out for about the first time how much damage we were doing to the Japanese troops.74
Other portions of enemy forces pulled back into the rugged hilly terrain east of the Sayre Highway, and into the swampy region of the Agusan River basin. Here L-5 aircraft were extensively used to coordinate strikes, and targets were marked by dropping smoke grenades.75
Though ammunition and sortie statistics do not necessarily mirror the effectiveness of a weapon, such figures do reflect the vigor of the effort. In 3,280 sorties in the northwest Davao sector, Marine planes dropped 1,450 tons of bombs and 183 tons of napalm. A flight reported in to the 24th Division support air party every hour on the hour from 0800 to 1600 daily. The "air alert" method was used to a great extent because of the distances involved between target area and plane base.76
Meanwhile, VMSB-244's participation in the Philippines campaign as an SBD squadron ended on 19 May when the squadron received 13 SB2C's (Curtiss "Helldivers"). During the rest of the month, squadron pilots received
lectures on their new plane, flew familiarization flights, and acquainted themselves with the plane's gunnery and bombing characteristics.77
On 1 June Colonel Warren E. Sweetser, Jr., assumed command of MAG-24, relieving Colonel Lyle H. Meyer. During the rest of the month the group continued to fly support for Army ground troops of the 24th and 31st Divisions, X Corps, Eighth Army. On 9 June units of the outfit had an especially good day when they flew 90 sorties, dropped 50 tons of bombs, and launched 11 five-inch rockets.78
On 30 June, Major General Franklin C. Sibert, X Corps commander, advised General Eichelberger that all organized resistance on Mindanao had ceased. Remnants of`the Japanese 13th Division had retreated into the mountain area between the Agusan River Valley and the Bukidnon Plateau. Now they were short of supplies and hemmed in from both sides by U.S. forces. Remaining elements of the enemy's 100th Division and naval forces in the Davao area had been squeezed into the mountains skirting the Kibawe-Talomo Trail along the stretch between Tuli to the southeast and Pinamola to the northwest. The enemy on Mindanao had broken into small groups of stragglers who kept alive by pilfering Filipino gardens.
Closing Operations of the Philippines Campaign
Although the Mindanao operation was officially closed on 30 June, there was some scattered fighting going on long after that date. Sarangani Bay, which had been considered in the early planning as the initial site for General MacArthur's return to the Philippines, still contained a relatively large number of Japanese, despite the continued harassment by guerilla units operating in the area. The mission of clearing the Japanese forces from this sector fell to the 24th Division, which began preparations for a Sarangani landing in early July. On 12 July, when that landing took place, Marine flyers in the Philippines carried out what proved to be their last major support mission of the war. (See Map 11.)
With a few exceptions, by mid-July the Marines had just about exhausted all profitable targets. There was one brief flareup of enemy activity in the Sulu Archipelago; a concentration of several hundred Japanese troops west of Mt. Tumatangas on Jolo Island was located and thoroughly bombed and strafed. There were also occasional strikes against the broken enemy forces who had escaped when Davao was taken; they had been pushed up the Kibawe Trail and beyond to Upian, where they offered little further threat to American forces.
The 16th of July saw Marine Aircraft Group 24 bidding farewell to the SBD, Dauntless, the well-loved plane that had been the group's mainstay throughout its Pacific combat. Wing orders received that day directed the decommissioning of Marine Scout Bombing Squadrons 133 and 241.79 Left as the only tactical unit in the group was VMSB-244, flying SB2C's.
The pilots who had flown the Dauntless knew its weaknesses, but they respected it for the job it had done, obsolescent though it
SBD RETIREMENT CEREMONY--With 25 stars on its "Asiatic-Pacific" ribbon, commemorating 25 Pacific battles since Midway, this and other Marine SBD's were retired from combat duty for obsolescence in August 1945.
CAPTURED ENEMY OFFICER ORIENTS MARINE AIR ATTACK, pointing out landmarks to Marine Mitchell bombers and Corsairs prior to attack on command post of his former outfit, the 100th Division, IJA.
was.80 Since the morning of 7 December 1941, when a Marine in the rear cockpit of a parked SBD shot down one of a flight of Japanese planes attacking Ewa Field near Pearl Harbor,81 the Douglas Dauntless had become almost synonymous with Marine Aviation. While other aircraft were discarded or remodeled to improve their efficiency, the SBD had continued to perform with few changes in its basic design.
And so, just before the planes were flown away to be scrapped, Colonel Warren E. Sweetser, commanding officer of MAG-24, paid final tribute to the SBD in a formal ceremony at Titcomb Field. Following the ceremony, the group's 24 remaining Dauntlesses took off on their last formal flight. Several
days later they were ferried to Cebu for final disposition by the Navy.82
On 1 August, the four SBD squadrons of MAG-32 ended tactical operations, preparatory to being returned to the United States on the 15th of the month. Changes now began to come thick and fast. On 4 August, Headquarters of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and MAG-61 (including Marine Bombing Squadrons 413, 423, 433 and 443) were directed to move to Zamboanga from Bougainville, by a dispatch from Commander, Far East Air Forces.83
The assignment of the 1st MAW to the Philippines in August 1945 was in a way ironical; neither General Mitchell, who had strived valiantly and long to obtain Philippine duty for the wing with only partial success, nor his deputy, Colonel Jerome, was present to see the realization of their mutual hope. General Mitchell had been relieved of his command, both of the wing and AirNorSols, on 3 June, and returned to the United States after 26 months of service in the Pacific.84 Colonel Jerome, the man who had directed Marine close air support activities on Luzon and Mindanao, was detached from his duties as Commander, Marine Air Groups, Zamboanga, and as commanding officer of MAG-32, just one month later.85
On 15 August Major General Claude A. Larkin, who had assumed command of the 1st Wing early in the month, informed wing personnel that a cessation of hostilities with Japan had been announced by President Truman. On the same day the general and members of his staff proceeded with the flight echelon of the wing to Zamboanga, arriving there on 17 August.86
Mitchell's dream of getting the entire 1st Wing into the Philippines had been partially realized, but the war with Japan was over. And the arrival of the wing at Zamboanga was anticlimactic in yet another way since it represented only an intermediate staging base for a further forward movement of the wing, this time to North China, where it would cooperate with ground elements in disarmament of the Japanese.87
Within a week after the arrival of the wing's forward echelon at Zamboanga, every MAGSZAM Dauntless had made its last flight to Mactan Island, just off the east coast of central Cebu (the last resting place of the SBD's). On 27 August the forward echelon of VMB-611 left for Peleliu to join the 4th Wing, though the squadron was still a part of MAG-32.
Finally, the dissolution of the command of MAGSZAMBOANGA was directed on 30 August, with operational control of Moret Field and air defense of Mindanao transferred to the Army's 13th Fighter Command, effective 1 September.
The work of Marine Aviation in the Philippines had been completed. Many units had already been decommissioned; others were in the process. Soon there would be only a few scattered Marine squadrons in the Philippines. The 1st MAW would move to Okinawa, and after only a short stopover there, on to China.
The work of the aviation Marines had been deeply appreciated by the ground units that had come to know it best; some of them, of course, had not had any experience with close support before. The 41st Infantry Division was one of these, and in one of its reports said
Looking at this campaign in retrospect, several problems presented themselves which have not been previously encountered by this command.
First in importance was the use of close air support. This campaign was characterized by adequate close air support, delivered by air units who were cognizant of the problems involved and anxious to do a good job . . . A total of 142 close support missions were flown during the first 30 days. Marine air strikes were within 300 yards of our front lines using 500 lb. bombs; yet not one casualty resulted. Several reasons can be cited for this record:
- Education of the infantry units on selection of targets for close air support.
- Proper identification of target by attacking aircraft.
- Marking of friendly front lines, using panels, smoke, etc.
- Continuous control of aircraft by Air Liaison Party at front line positions.
It has been found that prior to each operation a refresher school on air support, given to Battalion and Regimental Commanders, will do much to insure intelligent use of the air arm.88
Before the Marines left the Philippines, several Army ground units with whom they had worked expressed appreciation. Major General Jens A. Doe, commanding the 41st (Sunset) Division, during a combined air and ground ceremony, formally presented to Colonel Jerome and his men a plaque which commemorated the close cooperation between the Army and the Marines. On the plaque, six feet high and four feet wide, and trimmed with Japanese naval signal flags, was mounted an enemy light machine gun and a silk Japanese battle flag. Inscribed on the plaque was the legend: "IN APPRECIATION--41ST INFANTRY DIVISION." At the bottom their combined campaigns were listed: Jolo, Sanga Sanga, Basilan, and Mindanao.
During the ceremony, General Doe's message was read:
41st INFANTRY DIVISION HONORS MAGSZAM in ceremony at Moret Field, with presentation of a plaque commemorating operations at Zamboanga, Jolo, Basilan, and Sanga Sanga, when Marines furnished air support for the infantry.
It is the desire of the commanding general, 41st Division, to present this plaque to the officers and men of Marine Air Groups, Zamboanga, in appreciation of their outstanding performance in support of operations on Mindanao, Philippine Islands. The readiness of the Marine Air Groups to engage in any mission requested of them, their skill and courage as airmen, and their splendid spirit of cooperation in aiding ground troops has given the division the most effective air support yet received in any of its operations.
The effectiveness and accuracy of the support given by these groups proved a great factor in reducing casualties within the division. The work and cooperation of these groups has given the officers and men of the 41st Infantry the highest regard and respect for their courage and ability.89
Another tribute of which the Marines were understandably proud was paid to them by Major General Rosco B. Woodruff, commander of the 24th Division, which fought at Davao:
I take this opportunity to commend you [Colonel Jerome] and the men of your organization on the exceptionally fine air support given the 24th Division during the Mindanao operation. Every mission has been cheerfully and skillfully flown. In addition to this you have on your own initiative and the initiative of your pilots originated and carried out many missions in support of the Division which greatly aided in bringing this operation to a successful conclusion.
There have been 1964 sorties flown by the men in your organization in support of this Division. All of these involved flying over enemy territory in the face of enemy anti-aircraft fire, and were flown with determination and courage in spite of losses from enemy fire. Many missions were flown at great risk because of unfavorable weather conditions. The precision of individual attacks on pin pointed targets were greatly admired by front line troops, as was the courage with which they were pressed home at close range. It is believed that no other division in the Pacific area has had such complete and cooperative air coverage.
The skill of the men in your organization is attested by the confidence which every front line soldier has in your coordinators and pilots. Such confidence and cooperation as has been shown in this operation between two branches of the armed forces can only lead to a rapid and successful conclusion of the war.
Speaking for the entire Division I want you to know that we greatly appreciate your fine cooperation and the outstandingly superior air support given us, and hope that you and your men will continue to aid us in the completion of minor operations still scheduled in the Mindanao area. We also hope your organization will be paving the way for our advances in any future operations in which the Division may participate.90
General Robert L. Eichelberger, who commanded the Eighth Army throughout the campaign in the Philippines, paid the Marines a final tribute in his book, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, written after the war:
There were four groups of Marine fliers who, in the interest of the integration of the services, were attached to the Thirteenth Air Force. During the central and southern Philippines campaign I had personal contact with the 12th, 14th, and 32nd Groups, and that was enough to convince me. These fliers had been trained by the Marine Corps with ground troops for the specific purpose of supporting ground troops. Their accomplishments were superb in the Zamboanga and Mindanao campaigns. The Marine liaison officers were always in front lines with the infantry commanders, and they were as familiar with the forward positions as was the infantry. By radio they guided in the planes, and often the target of the strike was no more than three hundred yards ahead of the huddled doughboys.
Colonel Clayton C. Jerome commanded these airmen, and their accurate bombing and strafing earned them the gratitude and friendship of the 24th, 31st, and 41st Infantry Divisions. Nothing comforts a soldier, ankle-deep in mud, faced by a roadblock or fortified strong-holds, as much as the sight of bombs wreaking havoc on stubborn enemy positions. It puts heart into him. . . .91
1. These operations did not proceed in strict numerical and chronological sequence. (See Map 10.) In actuality, VICTOR III (the invasion of Palawan) took place first, 28Feb45, followed by: VICTOR IV (Zamboanga and the Sulu Archipelago), 10Mar45; VICTOR I (Panay), 18Mar45; VICTOR II (Cebu, Negros, and Bohol), 25Mar45; and finally VICTOR V (main body of the island of Mindanao), 17Apr45.
2. Report of the Commanding General, Eighth Army, on the Mindanao Operation, VICTORS III and IV, 5. Hereinafter cited as ComGen, VICTORS III and IV.
3. ComGen, VICTOR III and IV, 37.
4. Eighth Army Field Order No. 20, dtd 17Feb45.
5. Fifth Air Force (with headquarters on Mindoro) was given responsibility for Luzon operations. Thirteenth Air Force headquarters were moved from Morotai to Leyte, and MajGen Paul B. Wurtsmith became the new C. O., relieving MajGen St. Clair Streett.
6. A portion of MAG-12's ground personnel had never rejoined the flight echelon since the squadrons left Emirau; they came by a circuitous route from Emirau to Mindoro, disembarking there in mid-February.
7. AWS-4 staged directly from Leyte Gulf to Zamboanga on 8 March, and made the J-Day assault landing with the other Marine units there.
8. VMB-611's ground echelon had departed from Hawaii five months before; it had been shipborne off Leyte, off Samar, and finally off Lingayen, before its landing at Mindoro. It remained at Mindoro until after the Zamboanga landings and did not proceed there to join MAG-32 until 15 March, arriving at Zamboanga on 17 March. (The air echelon of this same unit, in a stage of final training at Emirau, was transferred by 1st Wing order from MAG-61 there to MAG-32 as of 3 March. This was an administrative attachment only, however, since its flight echelon did not actually arrive at Zamboanga until 30 March.)
9. A U.S. Army detachment was stationed at the Taburan airstrip for a time.
10. War Diary, MAG-12, entry for 27Feb45.
11. ComGen, VICTOR III and IV Operations, 46. The 24th Division was at Mindoro preparing for the main invasion of Mindanao--VICTOR V.
12. Maj E. H. Railsback and 1stLt. M. B. Cooper (VMF-115) downed a TOJO during this patrol mission. The enemy plane was about to come in for a landing at San Roque Field, the Japanese-held airstrip at the town of Zamboanga.
13. "Dipolog Airfield . . . was occupied by minimum personnel necessary to stage one fighter squadron from 8 March through 22 March and thereafter, as deemed necessary. A temporary fighter control center was also set up there from 6 March until such time as the fighter control center could be established at Zamboanga."--ComGen, VICTOR V, 41.
14. Report on Amphibious Attack on Zamboanga, Mindanao, Commander Amphibious Group Six, Task Group 78.1, 27-28. Hereinafter cited as Phib Group Six. Two B-24 flights arrived late and failed to check in with the shipboard air controller before bombing. Fortunately, no American casualties resulted because swampy terrain had held up the troops' advance before they reached the bombed area.
15. Phib Group Six, 52, notes that: "If 8,000 [enemy] troops had been present [the number originally estimated by American ground forces to be in the area; estimate based on guerilla reports] it is likely the elaborate defenses would have been manned." The Jungleers, A History of the 41st Infantry Division, 148, reports a count of 3,000 enemy dead and 2,000 estimated survivors in the Zamboanga (town) area, after the first week of the operation.
16. Airfield was captured on 12Mar45 by 2d Bn, 163d Inf, 41st Div.
17. Public Information Histories, History of MAG-32, 45. Herinafter cited as PubInfoHist--32.
18. In the beach area, one Marine from AWS-4 was hit while assisting in erecting a radar site. Other Marine casualties during the early days of the operation were caused by land mines and booby traps.
19. PubInfoHist--32, 45. Only two aerial attacks were directed against Moret Field. The other was early on the morning of 2 April . . . when a ZEKE dropped two bombs that missed the tower by less than 75 feet and threw mud-clods through the wings of two PBY's from the Army's Second Emergency Rescue Squadron. No personnel was injured in either of these attacks.
20. At Moret Field there was also a detachment of U.S. Army Air Force night fighters, ("Black Widow" P-61's) and a detachment of PBY's from an emergency rescue squadron, both operationally attached to MAGSZAM. From time to time there were other Thirteenth AF planes on the field--B-24's and P-38's, mostly transient.
21. During these early months of 1945 there had been no actual invasion of the Visayas by U.S. Army forces, but there were small detachments of Army ground controllers, etc., aiding the guerillas on some of these islands.
22. Frequently both were used, working as a team. The radio jeep would maintain contact with the truck, which in turn would relay messages back to MAGSZAM.
23. Since only two enemy air attacks took place against Moret Field during the entire Zamboanga operation, this phase of AWS-4's assignment proved of little real importance. Nevertheless, the radar search security mission was continued for some time.
24. "This proved quite successful in the conduct of night support missions. [Army] P-61 night fighters were vectored onto ground targets in two instances and succeeded in quieting Jap artillery that was firing on friendly forces."--McCutcheon, 12.
25. Basilan fell without opposition to one regiment of the 41st Division, on 16 March.
26. Frequently the ALP officer would take the flight leader to the front with him, and both men would discuss the situation with a ground force commander (usually at battalion level) who wanted air support to carry out a particular objective.
27. PubInfoHist--32, 46.
28. Report on Close Support Aviation, MAG-24, by LtCol Keith B. McCutcheon, 12.
29. Two companies from the 24th Division, previously assigned to help defend the field against the Japanese, had just been evacuated.
30. War Diary, VMF-115, Aircraft Action Report No. 27, 27Mar45.
31. MS. Comment, Capt Rolfe H. Blanchard.
32. War Diary, VMF-115, Aircraft Action Report No. 28, 28Mar45.
33. MAG-14 planes destroyed six more Japanese aircraft on the ground during the rest of the month of March.
34. War Diary, VMF-251, 21Mar45.
35. E-Day was pushed back one day in the time schedule from the originally planned date of 25 March, to permit additional briefing and "landing rehearsal" for the ground troops.--ComGen. VICTORS I and II, 61.
36. During March and April, 15 planes were lost through operational causes, and three as a result of combat. These losses, over and above planes not available because of overhaul, left each squadron with an average of 12 to 15 planes, instead of a normal 24.
37. MS. Comment, Capt Marion Bowers: "If a squadron with 10 planes in commission was scheduled to have 12 planes in the air at once, then usually one of the divisions would be made up of two pilots of one squadron and two pilots of another squadron. Group Operations designated the division leader."
38. Advance echelon departed for Okinawa via LST's on the same date, having joined a convoy forming in Leyte Gulf on the previous day. Forward echelon was to arrive at Okinawa about a week prior to the flight echelon, so that facilities would be available for servicing the planes upon their arrival.--War Diary, MAG-14, May45.
39. 1st MAW General Order No. 14-45, dtd 24May45.
40. Ltr, Hqs, Eighth Army, Office of the CG, dtd 25Jun45.
41. This was the only VICTOR Operation not supported by Marine aircraft. The island of Palawan was too far away from Marine fighter bases to permit satisfactory coverage.
42. The Thirteenth Air Force in the War Against Japan, USSBS, Military Analysis Division, 15.
43. MS. Comment, Capt S. H. McAloney: "To enable the Support Air Controller to control planes and guard all three circuits, the CAP and SAC nets were rigged through a split headset--left ear SAC, right ear CAP. A small loudspeaker was on ASR. A mike in each hand and one on a hook under the loudspeaker completed the lash-up."
44. "Marine Close Support, Philippines," an unpublished monograph by Capt Samuel McAloney. Cited hereinafter as McAloney.
45. War Diaries, MAG-12 and MAG-32, entry for 2Apr45.
46. PubInfoHist--32, 46.
47. Two Dauntlesses from VMSB-243 carried, as observers, MajGen Jens A. Doe, Commanding General of the 41st Div, and BrigGen Edwin A. Zundel, Commander of 41st Division Artillery, who were "well pleased with the flight, and had an excellent view of the landing operation." War Diary, VMSB-243, MAG-32, 9Apr45.
48. "Close Air Support of U.S. Army Units in the Philippines." An unpublished monograph by Capt E. R. Ciampa, Jr., 19. Hereinafter cited as Ciampa.
49. Ciampa, 19-20.
50. William F. McCartney, The Jungleers, A History of the 41st Infantry Division, 152.
51. Quoted from Zamboanga Operations--Eight Army, VICTOR IV, an Operational Monograph, 10Mar-20Jun45, 60.
52. Actually, the largest Japanese force in the Southern Philippines--Gen Eichelberger estimated that there were nearly 60,000 troops on Mindanao, exclusive of Zamboanga, at the time the VICTOR V Operation was launched. Operational Monograph on the Mindanao Operation, VICTOR V, 17Apr-Jun45, Eighth U.S. Army, 9. Hereinafter cited as OpMonMindanao.
53. Ibid., 34.
55. Operations Instructions Number 94, Headquarters, Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific, dated 11Mar45.
56. OpMonMindanao, VICTOR V, 48.
57. Ibid., 35.
58. Guerilla forces had held the airstrip for several weeks prior to this time, but were under constant threat from the Japanese, whose lines were, in some cases, only 400 yards from the field.
59. Gen Robert L. Eichelberger, USA, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, 219. Confirming the word received from Col Fertig that guerillas held Malabang Field and Malabang town, LtCol K. B. McCutcheon (MAG-24) had personally reconnoitered there four days before the landing. He was flown down from Mindoro to Zamboanga, where he borrowed a Dauntless from MAGSZAM and flew to Malabang on the 13th. He remained overnight in a plantation house there in which guerilla leaders were quartered, and gathered all information possible from them. Next day he made a second trip there and stayed again at Malabang from 14 to 16 April, then flew back to Zamboanga with Maj Blow, an Australian officer leading guerillas in the Malabang sector. Both men travelled by small boat and joined the invasion convoy on the afternoon of the 16th. Information these two men furnished to the X Corps commander, firmed the decision to land at Parang rather than Malabang.
60. War Diaries, MAG-12 and MAG-32, entries for 17Apr45.
61. War Diary, AWS-3, 17Apr45. In connection with unloading equipment, the war diary for this period emphasizes very strongly the desirability of LST's in preference to Liberty Ships and other types of vessels for loading and unloading radar vans and equipment. Their experience with ". . . loading on a Liberty ship was generally unsatisfactory, as far too many crates of the bulk cargo were broken through rough handling, and a number of crates of vehicles suffered minor damage from the cables used to lift them to the deck and into the holds . . . moves by LST proved much easier and safer . . . "
62. War Diaries, MAG-24; Hqs Sqdn, MAG-24; VMSB-244, MAG-24; entries for 17Apr45.
63. Sqdn History, Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241, MAG-24, entry fof 19Apr45. Also Hqs Sqd War Diary, MAG-24, same date.
64. PubInfoHist-24, 7.
65. Sqdn History, Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241, MAG-24, 83. Hereinafter cited as SqdHist-241.
66. Unit History, AWS-3, and War Diary, AWS-3, Apr45.
67. SqdHist-241, 83-84. From Del Monte airstrip the last American evacuees from the Philippines had taken off during the dark days of May, 1942.
68. SqdHist-241, 86.
69. ComGen, VICTOR V, 117-118.
71. LtCol Keith B. McCutcheon, "Close Air Support on Luzon," Marine Corps Gazette, Sep45, 39.
72. SqdHist-241, 85. This lack of urban targets is reflected in the total number of missions flown in Mindanao, which was greater than for a comparable period in Luzon, although the number of planes taking part in individual missions was considerably lower. Figures from VMSB-241's records (a fairly representative SBD squadron) indicate: 250 combat strikes, flights and missions, 70 more than on Luzon. These involved only 1,336 sorties as compared with 1,518 on Luzon. One hundred fewer tons of bombs were dropped in Mindanao than in Luzon, and only about half as many rounds of ammunition expended.
73. Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, 223-224. General Eichleberger says: ". . . Only ten days after the original landing the 24th Division had fought its way a hundred and ten miles across the island to the southern sea. Not three or four months--as General MacArthur had predicted--but ten days . . . the longest sustained land advance of Americans in the Pacific . . . If the 24th had been cautious, it would not have beaten the rainy season to Davao."
74. MS. COMMENT, 1stLt Thurston P. Gilchrist.
75. Another much used marking device during this period was the colored parachute, used at the front line as a marking panel. Targets were identified by distances and bearings in reference to these panels.
76. Historical Report, 24th Infantry Division, Mindanao--VICTOR V, Annex #4, G-4 Report, 5.
77. War Diary, MAG-24, May45.
78. Ibid. Rockets were launched from the new SB2C's of VMSB-244, which had been in combat action for only a very short time.
79. 1st MAW General Order No. 18-45.
80. At this time the SBD had actually been out of production for nearly a year.
81. "Report of Action on 7Dec41," Ltr from CO, MAG-21 to CinCPac Fleet, Serial KV4/P6/PWC (1219) dtd 30Dec41.
82. War Diary, MAG-24, Jul45.
83. War Diary, Hqs, 1st MAW, Aug45.
84. General Mitchell left Bougainville on 5 June, being relieved by MajGen Louis E. Woods, the first commander of the now veteran wing. Gen Woods was relieved the next day by Col Harold Major, who was in turn relieved by BrigGen Lewie G. Merritt, who arrived 10Jun to assume command.
85. Col Jerome was relieved on 4Jul45 by Col Stanley E. Ridderhof, formerly Chief of Staff of the 1st MAW on Bougainville. Col Jerome returned to the U.S. immediately.
86. On the same date (17 Aug), Col V. J. McCaul, USMC, was assigned duty as Commander, MAGSZAM, upon detachment of Col S. E. Ridderhof, USMC, whom he replaced.
87. History of the First Marine Aircraft Wing, 12.
88. G-3 Report on the VICTOR FOUR Operation, Hq 41st Inf Div., Section V, 1.
89. Ltr to MAGSZAM from Gen Doe, dtd 31Mar45.
90. PubInfoHist-32, 48-49.
91. Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, 250.
Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation